Rock Creek Update - November 2020
Image: Restored Reach of Gilbert Creek
In 2018, the WestSlope Chapter and Trout Unlimited National joined forces to initiate the Rock Creek Home Rivers Initiative. This initiative placed full-time TU staff member, Tess Scanlon, in Rock Creek to work with the local community and bring the full range of TU’s scientific, policy, education, and legal expertise to bear on watershed-scale restoration and protection.
Rock Creek is a destination fishery at the top of many anglers’ lists, even in a state with many famous rivers.
It is also a critical stronghold for endangered bull trout. The work we do in the watershed is especially visible to the public, helping showcase the importance of conservation. According to recent studies by the U.S. Forest Service, Rock Creek presents some of the best potential habitat for endangered bull trout, a status that will persist even as the climate continues to increase stream temperatures. As such, our investments to restore habitat, streamflow, and fish passage in Rock Creek have an especially good return on investment.
Though Rock Creek is a relatively robust fishery, bull trout redds are declining in numbers due to habitat degradation and lack of connectivity.
This is especially concerning because bull trout and other species of trout that spawn in Rock Creek help populate the greater Clark Fork watershed.
In response, the WestSlope Chapter and Tess Scanlon are implementing projects to ensure the Rock Creek fishery sustains its potential for years to come.
The Rock Creek Home Rivers Initiative has achieved the following results to date:
Reconnected a total of 18 miles of priority spawning habitats by removing fish passage barriers.
Restored 3,300 feet stream channel and 5-acres of habitat by constructing new stream channel.
Protected 1.25 miles of critical spawning habitat and 52 acres of riparian and wetland habitat by installing riparian fence to exclude grazing.
Improved streamflow in one mile of tributary habitat by increasing efficiency of irrigation water use.
Image: TU Volunteers Restore Native Vegetation to Gilbert Creek, tributary to Rock Creek
In 2019, TU, Scott Tucker, and FishTale Restoration, LLC completed Phase 1 of Gilbert Creek Restoration. The project consisted of the construction of nearly 2,300 feet of new stream channel with improved habitat complexity and deep pools, including a 430% increase in the number of pools and a nearly 1,000% increase in pieces of large wood in the stream. WestSlope Chapter volunteers restored native vegetation to the new stream channel.
And don’t forget to sponsor a fish in support of the program
and ongoing joint research project in Rock Creek.
An important source of pure cutthroat is Upper Willow Creek and its tributaries. I own 40 acres 12.75 miles from the intersection with MT348. Never a rainbow or a brown. I fish a little every year and catch (and release) mostly small cutthroat with a few brook trout and rarely, small bull trout. Stream has been impacted by fires and logging. Beaver help but seem to be being trapped, which on my land, and that of my immediate downstream neighbors, is not permitted. We are not usually on site in winter. Stream health would be helped if ranchers dowstream of me could be pursuaded not to abut winter feed lots and other places where cattle congregate on the stream.